An Early Look At The Apple Watch App Ecosystem

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With the Apple Watch now officially on the market, and soon to be on the wrists of several million customers – possibly as many as 20 million this year, according to some estimates – there’s a lot of curiosity about what kind of app ecosystem will spring up around the new device. Will Apple Watch owners actually be interested in reading news, shopping or playing tiny games, or will the Watch serve its customers better when it fades into the background, allowing you to pay at checkout, unlock hotel room doors, and only alerting you when it has something really important to share?

While it’s too soon to say how consumers will embrace this new platform, we do have some early insights into how developers have approached the Apple Watch, according to new data from app store analytics firm App Annie.

Apple yesterday said that the Apple Watch was launching with over 3,000 applications that work on the device, but App Annie has pegged that number more exactly to be 3,061 as of yesterday’s count – which the firm notes is a “healthy start” for the new wearable.

Also interesting is that a significant portion of apps have been designed exclusively for the Apple Watch.

The majority of Watch apps are the result of developers who extended their existing iOS applications to include Watch support, of course, but App Annie tracked 889 apps – or 29% of the total sample – built just for the Watch. The company said it was able to infer this from the fact that the first version of the app was developed in the last two weeks, which is a fairly reliable means to determining which apps were designed with the new smartwatch in mind.

Some developers are hoping that including support for the new Watch will also help them be better discovered in App Store searches as well, as new device owners seek out apps that can translate to their wrist. 10% of the Watch apps live now (or 311 apps), currently include the word “Watch” in their app’s name in order to help consumers through the sorting process, App Annie found.

As to what sort of apps developers are building, it’s not entirely surprising to find the community gravitating toward the kind of apps that help users get things accomplished. After all, the Watch is often thought of as a functional, enabling technology rather than a distraction, the way smartphones have become. The leading category with the most Apple Watch apps is the “Utility” category, App Annie says, with 12% (373 total) apps.

What is perhaps more interesting is that many developers are betting that users will eventually began to goof off with their fancy wrist-wear: Games comprise 10% of the total App Watch apps built to date.

Following Games are Productivity apps (8%), Lifestyle apps (7%), then Health & Fitness apps (also 7%). Those top five categories out of the 22 total categories live at launch represent a combined 46% of all Apple’s Watch apps. For comparison’s sake, Catalogs and Books have less than 20 apps. Clearly developers don’t believe these sorts of apps make sense on the small screen. (I’d have to agree.) Meanwhile, Weather, Photo & Video, and Medical apps are also on the lower end at 2% and under.

The Medical category would have some overlap with Health & Fitness apps – so if you combined the two categories, it would indicate a larger preference among the developer community to focus on the health aspects to Apple’s new wearable device.

The real question now is what apps will users actually download from these categories, once their Apple Watch arrives? And how many of those apps will be deleted after the initial buzz of trying new app experiences wears off? That’s data App Annie is also collecting, and will release in the days and months ahead.